Thursday, 15 July 2010

Did X Factor 'out' a gay asylum seeker, putting him in danger?

By Paul Canning

The production company for hit TV show X Factor passed the real name to the Sun newspaper of a contestant who is a young Middle Eastern gay asylum seeker, he has claimed in comments published by Manchester's Lesbian and Gay Foundation (LGF) and then Pink Paper.

The Sun subsequently ran an inaccurate article belittling the asylum seeker and this was then picked up in the Middle East, which has put him in danger.

The asylum seeker known as Zac told LGF:
“I was shocked that the paper used my real name and age. I rang them and they said a press release had come from the X Factor’s marketing company.”
LGBT Asylum News has confirmed that the conversation with Sun journalist Chris Robertson took place in the presence of a worker for the Young Person's Advisory Service (YPAS) in Liverpool, of which Zac is a client.

YPAS LGBT Youth Co-ordinator Kieran Bohan told us that Zac had been called by the X Factor 5 July to inform him about the article which was published 3 July. Zac then went to YPAS and Robertson was called. He told Zac that the article was based on a press release.

It is common practice for entertainment news stories to be based in part or entirely on material supplied by public relations companies or departments.

Zac had also been told by X Factor to prepare five songs for an audition in Manchester however later in the day he was called and told that they didn't want him after all. Kieran said that it is his belief that the story was placed "in order to drop Zac."

LGF says that Zac did give his personal details as part of the audition process and “signed a lot of papers” but was assured that his personal information wouldn’t get published.

X Factor producers Talkback Thames have denied that The Sun received a press release, telling us:
There was no press release issued to the sun by the x factor. We did not disclose personal information about this contestant.
The Sun would not discuss the origins of the story with us.

The story published in The Sun was picked up by two news websites in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as well as social media. This would put Zac in danger of persecution including possible physical harm if his case is rejected and he is returned. But a source in Dubai (via Gay Middle East) suggested to us that the most serious risk to Zac would be that the mention of the family name in the media in connection with homosexuality could also cause problems for family members or cause family members to cause further harm to Zac - even though he now lives in Liverpool.

The Middle East based website 7 Days was one outlet which picked up on The Sun's article, saying “it is unclear why he doesn’t want to return to the UAE” but Zac says:
“They make it sound ridiculous, they don’t realise the harm. I wish I could go back, but as a gay man it’s not safe. I would be killed by my father. The government would jail me, if I didn’t change my behaviour on release. I’d face the death penalty. My religion says I would be killed for having relations with a man.”

"If I went back, I would be arrested at the airport because the paper printed my real name and sexuality. The police would say change, they would beat me, anything could happen. I could be put to death.”
Dan Littaneur, Gay Middle East (GME) Editor, told us:
"If Zac is deported to Abu Dhabi he is very likely to be in serious trouble with the authorities; article 80 of the Abu Dhabi Penal Code makes sodomy punishable with imprisonment of up to 14 years."

"GME has received various reports and there are also news articles that have revealed how the law is typically enforced including imprisonment, forced hormonal and psychological treatments. Most of the inhabitants of Abu Dhabi are strict Sunnis followers of the Maliki school which believe that sodomy merits death by stoning."

"Being gay is seen as one of the worst crimes and offenses against the faith, honour and integrity of not only the accused person but for all his family members and those who have dealings with them."

"A source of GME in the Emirates commented that due to these facts, Zac will be most definitely be socially ostracised and may face abuse, both psychological and physical from his family, the authorities and the general public. He will be unlikely ever to find employment, and his movements will be restricted and monitored. Worse still he would always be in danger of being put to death in some of the other Emirates which uphold the UAE Article 354 of the Federal Penal Code states, "Whoever commits rape on a female or sodomy with a male shall be punished by death.""

"In my view as well as sources of GME within the Emirates, not granting asylum and deporting Zac to Abu Dhabi would mean loss of freedom as well as a serious threat to his well being and even his life."
In 2005, twenty-six young men were arrested at an Abu Dhabi hotel. They initially faced government-ordered hormone treatments.

In January we reported on the arrest of two gay men in Dubai. According to court documents one of the defendants was entrapped by a 'cybercrimes investigator' in an online chat room. One of the men was sentenced to three years imprisonment.

A source in Kuwait (via Gay Middle East) told us that online entrapment by the state in common in countries around the Gulf. "In Oman, for example, they use it to blackmail foreigners into extending their work contracts," he said.

In 2007 Dubai police initially treated sixteen year old French Swiss boy Alexandre Robert who had been kidnapped and raped as a suspect. The worry that a case was being built against Alexandre as an illegal homosexual led his family to leave the country on the advice of the French consul. His mother subsequently set up the website

Zac told LGF that the Sun's report was full of inaccuracies. It claimed that he was desperately using the show to stay in the UK and describes him as a “failed asylum seeker” who has had his application “rejected”.
“They say my case has failed, but it hasn’t. They say I ought to be on my way back to the Middle East, but I’ve been told by the Home Office that I’m not allowed to leave the UK”.

“They say I use the programme to get asylum. I didn’t, my case is strong. I auditioned because I love singing. Taking part in the show wouldn’t change anything about my case.”
Zac's legal representative Dr Edward Mynott told us that although his original claim was rejected on the basis that he was not known to anyone who could harm him in the UAE an appeal has been lodged, the asylum tribunal has accepted that Zac is gay and last week's Supreme Court decision on the so-called 'discretion test' "has clarified the legal approach and will be relevant to any consideration of our client's case."
"Our client has never used his involvement in X Factor as a basis for his asylum claim,"said Mynott.

"Our client is shocked by the public disclosure of his personal information and we fear that the disclosure has exacerbated the risk to him." 
Zac grew up in the most conservative Emirate Abu Dhabi but came to the UK with his mother in 2004. He ran away last year when she found out he is gay, then the Home Office relocated him to Liverpool. Here he says he has grown in confidence and is a different person thanks to the support of local agencies like the Young Persons Advisory Service.

Zac told LGF:
“I miss my mum a lot. It’s hard to be without family. I’ve been sick and thought if only my mum was with me, it’s the same when I see kids at college with their parents. I wish I had her support. She’s got a good heart but when it comes to sexuality it’s all wrong.  I don’t blame her – it’s our religion. I’ve tried to change, but I can’t.”
In Liverpool, Zac says he has the “love and support” of a long term boyfriend and good friends, so was horrified to read the negative comments posted by readers of The Sun online such as, “get him out before he takes any more of the government’s money” and “next plane out good riddance”.

Zac told LGF he was dismayed and hurt by the comments:
“I’ve not done anything wrong. I know some asylum seekers aren’t for real. They make me sound like I am an animal. I’m not begging. My mother pays taxes. I would work but the government won’t let us. I try hard to save money”.
LGBT Asylum News spoke with X Factor producers Talkback Thames for comment on Zac's claims and subsequently emailed the following questions:
  • Is Zac correct that his real identity was supplied by a marketing company for X Factor to The Sun?
  • If this was the case was the danger to him as a gay asylum seeker from the UAE considered?
  • If this was the case were any details regarding his asylum case in information released to The Sun?

This interview with Zac was for a film and web project called 'BreakOUT'.

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